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UT Austin’s High School Research Academy (HSRA) - Should You Apply?

Are you a high school student with a passion for research and a desire to explore the academic world? A valuable approach to assisting students in their postgraduate journey is providing early exposure to STEM via a research immersion program, enabling students to develop research capabilities and valuable networking connections.


The University of Texas at Austin’s High School Research Academy is a program based out of University of Texas that helps guide students into a world of research and career exploration in the STEM fields.


In this blog, we'll look in-depth at HSRA's summer program, covering its structure, topics, faculty, prestige, costs, eligibility, important dates and deadlines, and what you can expect as a participant. We'll also weigh the pros and cons and share some testimonials to help you decide if HSRA is the right choice for you.



How is the program structured?

The HSRA summer program is an in-person and non-residential five-week summer experience designed to provide high school students with a taste of college-level research. Integrated with the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) and research groups at the University of Texas at Austin's main campus, students engage with rigorous academic coursework and hands-on research projects. They are offered a glimpse into the life of a university student on the UT Austin campus.



Is the program prestigious?

This program has a cost attached to enrollment in courses and research. Therefore, this program is not likely prestigious because it lacks competitiveness. However, you can opt for this program if you are looking for a rigorous (but paid!) program in STEM at a popular university. The University of Texas at Austin is a renowned institution with a strong academic reputation, offering students an opportunity to engage in research at a respected university. In addition, the applicant pool is quite small compared to the residential programs that invite students from areas apart from the ones around the university’s campus.



Which topics can I conduct research on?

HSRA offers a wide range of subjects for students to explore within the STEM field. These STEM fields include biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computational chemistry or biology, environmental science, genomics, materials science, molecular biology, and physics. The program's diversity of topics allows you to choose an area of interest that aligns with your academic pursuits while preparing you with the general and advanced lab techniques needed for future research.


Among the current research pursuits at HRSA, one intriguing study area is Molecular Stickers. In this domain, researchers are delving into the world of RNA tools, exploring their potential in the development of advanced medical diagnostic tests. Another unique research avenue is Virtual Drug Discovery, where students are actively engaged in investigating new chemical compounds with relevance to infectious diseases. Additionally, the program offers hands-on experience in Molecular Machines, where participants are introduced to essential laboratory skills used to construct genetic information, such as PCR, DNA mini prep, and transformation techniques. To delve deeper into the diverse fields of research undertaken by HRSA students, a wealth of information can be found on their program website, offering a comprehensive overview of their cutting-edge scientific endeavors.



How much does the program cost?

It's important to note that HSRA is not a free program. The cost will vary by year of enrollment; for the Summer 2023 experience, fees stayed up to $3500 per student. This includes participation in one research experience, UT course credit, and the accompanied events. Tuition and fees can be a significant investment, so review the program's website for the most up-to-date cost information.

The program also offers need-based scholarships which are limited so be sure to check back in for applications for the 2024 cohort!



Who is eligible to apply?

HSRA typically accepts students who have completed their sophomore or junior year of high school. Applications must be at least 15 years or older by June 1st, 2024. Participants must also be available for the designated five weeks to conduct research over the summer.



What are Important Dates and Deadlines?

The program's application deadlines, start dates, and duration can vary yearly. Be sure to visit the HSRA website for the most accurate and up-to-date information on application timelines.



What can I expect to do as an HSRA program participant?

As a participant in HSRA, you can expect to immerse yourself in the research world. You'll work on a real research project with an expectation of 15-25 hours per week in a group. The specific dates and times are discussed once groups are created and shared.


Participants are also expected to participate in various events outside of research, including guest speaker events and a poster forum during the last week of the program.

Each HRSA participant can earn college course credit through the UT Extension Program if interested in attending the university post-high school graduation.



Now, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of HSRA’s summer research program for high schoolers, to give you a better idea of whether you should apply or not.


Pros


1. You can Gain Hands-On Research Experience


HSRA offers high school students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on research experience in a university setting. This practical exposure to real-world research projects is invaluable and can significantly enhance your understanding of the STEM field as you explore your pre-college interests. Working alongside students of similar interests you



2. Access to Faculty Mentorship


HSRA's affiliation with the University of Texas at Austin means you'll have the chance to work closely with renowned faculty members. Their mentorship can provide valuable guidance, expand your knowledge, and help you establish meaningful connections in your chosen field. While the list for associated research professors is not currently available, professors conducting research are affiliated with diverse departments within the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at UT Austin. These faculty members possess significant expertise in facilitating hands-on learning experiences, particularly involving undergraduate students in authentic research endeavors. Additionally, many of these professors hold affiliations with the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), the largest undergraduate research program in the nation.



3. Engage and explore Diverse Research Topics


With a wide range of STEM subjects, HSRA allows you to delve into areas that align with your interests. This diversity ensures you find a research project that resonates with your academic and career goals, providing a tailored and enriching experience. This credit can be a valuable asset when applying to colleges and universities, saving you time and tuition expenses in the future.



Cons


1. The program is priced quite steeply


One of the primary drawbacks of HSRA is the associated program costs. The fees, which can be substantial, may pose a financial challenge for some students and their families. While scholarships are available, it's essential to consider the Program's cost in your decision-making process.



2. You will be required to commit quite a lot of time in the summer


Participating in HSRA requires a significant time commitment during the summer months. The five-week Program involves intensive research work, often requiring 15-25 hours per week. This dedication may limit your ability to engage in other summer activities or part-time jobs.



3.It is not very accessible for students living outside the vicinity of the campus


The program does not provide housing or transportation for HRSA participants during the program which can be a limitation for students who are applying out of the area. If you are interested in attending the university or specifically seeking STEM-related research at UT Texas, this program may not be able to support your access to faculty and research sites.



UT Austin’s High School Research Academy (HSRA) - Should You Apply?


In conclusion, UT Austin's High School Research Academy offers valuable research experience, faculty mentorship, and diverse STEM research opportunities. However, potential participants should be aware of the financial costs, the credits offered and where they are transferable, the eligibility and admission process, intensive commitment, and limited availability. Consider your academic and career goals carefully when deciding whether to apply to HSRA, as it can be a great experience for accepted students.

If you are a high school student passionate about STEM and eager to gain hands-on research experience, UT Austin's High School Research Academy is a valuable opportunity if you are ready to bear the financial costs that come with it. It exposes a renowned university and allows you to explore your academic interests. However, consider your financial situation and the commitment required before applying. If you are looking for a program that is accessible to housing and transportation support, you may need to explore other options. Ultimately, the decision to apply should align with your academic and career goals and your ability to meet the Program's requirements.



One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in STEM, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!


Image Source: HSRA logo

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